Tuesday, October 31, 2006
I cannot figure out if my sympathetic and parasympathetic systems are pulling Freaky Fridays on me, or if my sympathetic system just chooses poorly. As most of you know, the parasympathetic nervous system encourages your body's rest and digest function. And I'm sure you also know that the sympathetic nervous system triggers the fight or flight response.
Conflict or strife seems to encourage my parasympathetic side. I grow weary, I want to sleep. Meltdowns are met with calm. Temper tantrums do not raise my heart rate. I'm all about diffusing a bomb.
But put me in front of a perfectly well-adjusted person who is sincere and kind, and my first instinct is to run as quickly as my legs can carry me. I cannot figure it out. Technically, it is just a case of bad decisions. The sympathetic response pumps the adrenaline and whatnot, but it gives you a choice: fight or flee. I have to learn to take a breath and clench a fist, instead of preparing for wind sprints.
It seems right to discuss this on Halloween, because to some extent, fear must be pushing me towards flight. On Friday, co-worker GBF orchestrated a situation that wound up somewhere completely off the reservation. He suggested meeting up for drinks. I was asked as GBF's sidekick; we were to be chaperones for a set-up. For the record, this GBF's set-up skills are really suspect.
Nothing seemed to happen according to plan on Friday night. GBF was running late, so he dispatched me to the bar, so as not to leave JI & SC without nary a wing-man or woman to quell awkwardness. Half way to the bar, I realized that I forgot my ID, as I had spent the morning switching licenses. Even though I am not delusional enough to think that any bartender would doubt my legal right to drink, I worried that there might be a bouncer at the door. So I trudged back to get my ID.
When I finally arrived at the bar, I was late, out of breath from both rushing and climbing hills, and sweating. I had never met SC before, and as I explained to JI that I'd forgotten my ID, SC interjected, "there's always hope that you might be carded."
I narrowed my eyes at him in confusion. Was he being funny or did he just insult me? Then I remembered that I was playing chaperone, and accordingly made some self-deprecating remark about being grateful when bartenders do card me (although, in fairness, that is true, I really do practically hug bartenders when they ask me for ID). Situation neutralized.
Co-worker GBF finally showed up, and a rhythm seemed to be establishing. The weirdness was starting to dissipate, since GBF was the thread connecting all of us. But a few nervous glances at his cellphone later, GBF announced that he had a date. I gave him the glare of death, the dude, you are not just leaving me here to be a third motherf*cking wheel, b*tch. He pretended not to notice and vaporized a moment later.
I dangled my empty glass in my hand for a few minutes, kind of teetering indecisively as to what to do next. SC asked if I wanted another drink. I turned him down. JI, SC and I all regarded each other tentatively for a moment. I thought this would probably be the right moment for us to all head our separate ways, especially because JI was not showing a whole lot of warmth for her potential future husband (joking, joking).
Instead, SC suggested we get something to eat. Here's the thing. This SC fellow is a good guy. He is gainfully employed, he is smart, and there is something just generally nice about the dude. When I got the sense that JI was going to give him the cold shoulder, I started to think of other friends who might be interested in him. I'm sure my mother would be so proud of the GBF's ability to imbue me with matchmaker tendencies.
None of this is scary. Like I said, SC is responsible, smart, nice- not a hint of a$$hole about him, clearly not a threat of any kind. Except that yesterday, GBF called me for an emergency lunch conference. At lunch, he notified me of an overturning of the laws of physics. JI told GBF to give SC her number. SC politely declined, and this is where GBF might have hallucinated: SC, allegedly, said he was interested in me, and inquired after my "story." Allegedly.
During lunch, I gaped at GBF, salad inappropriately hanging out of my mouth. But, as soon as he asked how he should handle this turn of events, restless leg syndrome kicked up in full force. At that moment, I feel certain I could have run a 5K without stopping. Even a day later, the thought of this whole high school drama playing out into some potential dating situation makes me want to join witness protection, never to be heard from again. I wanted to tell my co-worker GBF to tell SC my story. My real story. I would think that would be enough to stamp the fright with a big, red return to sender.
But I am contributing to the juvenile nature of all of this by having such a ludicrous reaction. The last time I checked, I am not 16. In fact, I think I might have handled this situation better when I was 16. Yesterday, I spent a good chunk of the afternoon rationalizing it all away to RR- most of my theories revolved around pheromones that are emitted when you have one foot out the door. RR pointed out that my jibber-jabber was bordering on idiotic. He is right, and yet, remember, the fight or flight response is an involuntary one. At some point, I am going to have to get this wiring fixed.
In the mean time, you can find me fetal under my desk. Or bolting down the nearest alley.
Monday, October 30, 2006
You know the old saying- when maisnon gives you lemons, you make lemon bars. Actually, my reasons were two-fold. First, D really did, rather inexplicably, bring me a singular lemon last Sunday. I found this charming, because this might be the first time I have ever witnessed D sans an accompanying backstory or anecdote in tow. Of course, I am known to be a space cadet since moving to San Francisco, so it is also possible that D did explain the lemon to me and I simply blocked it out of my memory (in which case, sorry, D!).
The second reason has to do with stretching. I feel certain that there is a lot of baking in my future in the next month or so, and I really need a warm up period. I expect the first several forays to be failures, and, wow, am I really living up to my expectations. The oatmeal cake from last week was mediocre. D made an icky face when she tasted the lemon bars, then asked me if there was cardammom in them. This was funny, since I suspect she thought I was trying to go all desi on lemon bars. In fact, I had tried to make the crust ginger-flavored, because I like the combination of lemon and ginger. Clearly, it had failed to translate.
Luckily, I had also picked up some brownie mix from Trader Joe's, so desserts last night were not a complete fiasco. You know what was a complete fiasco though? Last week's episode of Lost. We both lost the will to snark, so horrible was the episode.
After over a week of phone tag, my cousin K and I finally caught up last night. She advised me against entertaining the offer to switch jobs. She is the best person to attack these sorts of dilemmas, as exemplified by her reasoning: "there is too much risk switching jobs will convince you to stay at this, when you know that, no matter what else happens, you need to quit next year." She was not only right, but also calling me on my bullsh*t with one well-hurtled stone. I keep saying that, regardless of The Goal, I need to stop with the corporate slavery next year. Switching jobs might make work just tolerable enough to get lulled into staying at it for another year. And given my track record, the next thing I know, I'll realize five years have passed by and I still have not made the bold moves I claimed I would.
K is also taking a writing workshop right now, and would likely be horrified if she knew what I am up to over here with my nonsensical ramblings. And that's just how it seems to go. No one knows me completely, but everyone gets a different piece. It does not bother me, but I think at times it bothers my confidantes.
What with the disappearing act some people have staged of late, and the imminent self-inflicted changes to come with life, I have been relating to love songs for all the wrong reasons:
On the morning when I woke up without you for the first time
I felt free, and I felt lonely, and I felt scared.
And I began to talk to myself almost immediately
not being used to being the only person there
- The Mountain Goats
The you is missing, but the experience is otherwise exactly the same. The art of losing isn't hard to master. I have been through it before, which is the comfort of age- knowing that, even if there is impending heartbreak, you will pick yourself up and emerge once again to walk through the rest of your days.
Friday, October 27, 2006
You see, until this morning, I have only carried a license from one state since the age I learned to drive. I have lived in many other states. In fact, I have not lived in the state where I learned to drive since I graduated from high school. But I always maintained my driver's license from EBF. I maintained a semblance of residence in those states (thanks mom & dad!) because I was always convinced that my moves were temporary.
I always figured, just another year. At any moment, I could disappear, and no one would notice really. So I went for years carrying around a license from the other side of the country. Every so often, my friends would spy me slipping the license to a bouncer, bartender, or store owner, and would ask why I was holding onto it. Didn't I know it was illegal? How had I managed it all these years?
There is a lot of irony in my resistance to discard my license, honestly. I never much cared for EBF. When I am there, I do not feel a profound sense of home, or attachment to the place. I can appreciate the beauty of its roads and its colors and its landscapes, but I never feel I have come back when I am there. I never feel those open arms of welcoming- which is not unusual, actually, because where I grew up was not such a touchy-feely sort of place. Sure, it is somewhat fun to proclaim my home state to people, since it usually causes a mixture of surprise, fascination and a look of wtff?!?. Still, it's not out of some sentimental attachment to my home state that I have held that license for the last 15+ years.
There is even more irony in establishing myself as a California resident today, when all signs point to me living here for longer than another six to nine months. It was strange, last night, studying for the driver's license exam (shut up, the Cali exam is hard, and a lot of my friends have failed on the first try), when I have been feeling increasingly like letting go of the west coast and returning to a more solid place. Four years, and only when the winds of change are starting to swirl again do I get my license.
I occasionally have to ask myself if I really want not to belong anywhere. It certainly seems like I take a lot of steps to keep myself from settling in, integrating, incorporating.
And crossing the Golden Gate Bridge today, the city was bursting. The sun sparkled against the water, silenced even the suggestion of fog, and seemed to clean the city off into a shiny gem. It was all so beautiful, and it used to make me catch my breath. Nowadays I breathe it in, I pay the city its due respect, and think to myself, I will always have this.
When I got home, all of that peace from feeling sure of where I was headed was jostled. I should know better by now. Whenever I make peace with life, it picks a fight. Some time back, I had made amends with not switching jobs. I was offered a job, I thought about taking it, I decided to take it, and then, because of some office politics, the job disappeared. And even though I was disappointed, I had come to terms with it. I called a truce. This afternoon, of course, all this time later, I got an email informing me that the job has materialized again. Just when I thought I was finally going to have a weekend without introspection.
Thursday, October 26, 2006
So, in my head, whenever I start in with some classically faulty logic of mine, I use that mantra for support. I realized recently that I am drawn to scoundrels because of all of my many flaws. In my head, I am convinced that I am a big, unmanageable, unstable mess. And as a result, I somehow sussed out that two wrongs would make a right. Negative, negative... positive.
And of course, I am repelled by kindness, by seriousness of intention of any kind. Instinctively, I think, "oh, no good can come of this." And it must be because- negative, positive... negative. Those good folks are destined for other good folks. Together, they make apple pie and rainbows and bunny rabbits (except the kind that potentially play dead when their cages are rattled on strange islands).
But there is a lot I seem to have overlooked in my simple little equations. This is typical. I was never all that good at math, not beyond the most cursory level. Calculus was fine, but as soon as Multivariate started up, I got the queasy feeling that I was stumbling in the fog. I took a graduate class in Kinetics once, saw a triple integral sign, and nearly hyperventilated.
But chemistry, I understood much better. Yet somehow I overlooked the negatives and positives in chemistry, as they applied to life. In chemistry, they refer to charges on atoms or ions or molecules. You can think about it like magnets. Like repels like. Positives attract negatives.
It's not that simple though; that is what chemistry spells out. I know this; not all bad guys go for the goodie two-shoes. But on a normal, neutral molecule, it is not that simple. It does not appear to be charged necessarily, but it leans one way or the other, its charge distribution a little more positive than negative, or vice versa. And it is attracted to other molecules because of those tiny inclinations. Even then, the environment around the molecule exerts its forces, keeping molecules apart or encouraging them together. It's the opposite of straightforward. In fact, I find it nearly miraculous in its complexity.
Sometimes I think I get tired, and I want everything to be black and white. And so I like to make sweeping statements, such as- I like jerks. But all of the nuance is lost in such an uninteresting remark. It is not that I like jerks, or even psychos, as I sometimes claim. In fact, I tend to have no tolerance for such behavior (as my posts probably often point out, no doubt tediously). It is more that I am drawn to what is not obvious. I am just a neutral molecule with a little hint of negativity, waiting to be drawn in the right direction. Whatever that might be.
Wednesday, October 25, 2006
But the heat wave is dying down, and it is getting to be the right season for regular baking. I realized last night that the last time I had dipped a toe back in the baking pool was mediocre at best. It was also two months ago. I am suddenly aware that, in the big push towards The Goal, I left a few things behind. And without those things, I become disconnected from myself.
Also, on Monday night, I had a typical response to disappointing news- I tried to eat the contents of my refrigerator. So, last night, I took Coach Taylor's advice, and tried to channel my disappointment into a more productive pursuit than that of sending myself into a diabetic coma. I decided to bake the contents of my kitchen. Okay, maybe it was not that extreme. Still. During the commercial breaks for FNL, I surveyed the kitchen, taking stock, figuring out what I had and what was missing, what I absolutely needed and where I could compensate. So, after FNL, I set about making this:
This is supposedly an oatmeal cake. I tried to spice it up with a good amount of cinnamon, ginger and allspice, but I still got the sense that it was a little bland. I was preparing to chuck the whole thing. I am okay with that, and don't consider it wasteful. Here's why. I consider it wasteful to throw away food that you made for the purpose of consuming. However, I was baking for experimentation purposes, for the soothing nature of the process of it. Sacrifices have to be made in experimentation, failures have to be discarded. You move on. But. I deemed this to not be an incomplete failure. I diagnosed the problem as potential blandness. Solution:
As you can see, I was still unsure of myself. Usually, I just bring in what I have hatched in the kitchen and unleash it on my coworkers because I do not care for the majority of them and they seem willing to eat pretty much anything left in the break room. However, I really did not know what to make of this. The cake part of it was a little crumbly, and tasted a little like the inside of a cake donut. The cinnamon frosting, on the other hand, was exactly what I wanted it to be.
RR tasted it this morning. His evaluation: "not your best work". I agree. But it did not feel like a fiasco.
It did not feel like a fiasco because last night I had a modest dose of good television. Last night, I tinkered in the kitchen until the whole apartment smelled of cinnamon. Last night, after all of that, I walked to the grocery store because I had run out of milk. And last night, I slept like a baby, and woke up prepared to deal decisively with all the unnecessary drama and disappointment that comes with waking up every morning.
Tuesday, October 24, 2006
Tonight, I get my happy pill for the week- watching Friday Night Lights. It is absolutely foolish of me to watch this show. I am so enamored of it that last week, unable to watch while at my parents' house, I eagerly purchased it from On Demand first thing upon returning home. But this is all ill-advised. This is like dating a guy because he's everything you ever wanted, but he's already told you he doesn't want a commitment and he's contemplating moving to a foreign country. Friday Night Lights is that doomed. I just want to point this out- if the monkeys that run NBC decide to pull FNL and not
Not to mention that FNL has this guy:
Whatever, dudes- happy pills are not made of good writing and pacing alone.
I should mention that there were also a lot of genuinely fantastic aspects of my birthday, although apparently, a lot of you think that many of the aspects of last Friday night were pretty fantastic too. If for no other reason, I should mention it because I got some disappointing news yesterday, and it's important to note at such moments that there are plenty of reasons to be grateful. First, a few of my friends took me out to Chez Papa on my actual birthday. I have been wanting to go there for quite some time, and the food was just perfectly what I was craving. Before and during dinner, my masis and mamas and cousins all called one by one to wish me a happy birthday, which was really thoughtful. In a bit more of a mortifying turn, the waiters brought out my creme brulee with a candle in it, gathered around me, and started singing Happy Birthday. Three French waiters singing Happy Birthday: vaguely embarassing but charming. The entire restaurant raucously joining in after the first line: cheek-flushing, heart-stopping, trying-not-to-pass-out but amusing.
Also, there were sincerely kind birthday emails from both J and TMB, so I am now officially banned from making any disparaging remarks whatsoever about both Southern California and Houston. That is going to be a tough resolution to keep up.
And finally, to wrap it all up, not only did maisnon save my candy a$$ on Friday night, but she also took me out to dinner on Sunday night. We wandered around my neighborhood, found her a hipster hat, had a wonderfully satiating meal, and returned to my crack shack. See, D is going to keep me honest on my resolution to keep the shack presentable, because we are supposed to have a weekly viewing of Lost. Viewing it with her was exactly how I imagined it- very MST3K. It's a good thing too, because that was the only thing that made it watchable. Maybe I can sucker her into a Friday Night Lights addiction instead?
Monday, October 23, 2006
But I know if I turned this into a permanent hiatus, I would be sorry later, so I shall attempt to get back into the ring. But I am afraid I shall have to resort to the in media res approach to storytelling. Much has happened, and it seems, all of a sudden, after a long span of waiting, events are finally unfolding at an accelerated rate. But, nothing definitive has occurred, so in some ways, there is not that much to tell.
Instead, I will tell you what happened on Friday night. In some ways, this is actually just a lame attempt to write a public apology to some unsuspecting victims of a poorly orchestrated happy hour. Here's what I think of as happy hour- a few hours of happiness, facilitated by pleasant beverages, involving good conversations with friends new and old. Apparently, some of my friends do not agree with me on that definition. Namely, my friend KL.
Here is where I make my PSA, brought to you by Whitney Houston: Crack is Wack, y'all.
Allow me to explain. KL showed up to the bar a little too chipper, for starters. I wrote this off as Marina Girl behavior. Even though I play up my affection for the Mission, I try to give everyone a chance. I try not to let a person's neighborhood define them. Still, I'm just saying that there was a lot of Marina Girl kissing and giggling before any alcholic beverages had been purchased at the bar.
Less than an hour later, KL officially crossed over the line from happy to crazy. It started innocently, her dragging random people onto the dance floor. It morphed: she started dragging a male coworker onto the dance floor. Then the train to Crazy Town arrived, as she was hitting on men and women alike, and shoving her entire body into anyone who wasn't quick enough to block her.
Let me repeat: Crack is Wack, y'all.
Anyway. I have to admit that I wigged a little. KL invaded my personal space three times too many, and that's three times more than I usually allow. Also, I was inundated with questions or comments from the innocent bystanders:
- Coworker guy: Dude, I'm a guy- I can only take so much of this before I will take it seriously. What should I do?
Innocent bystander: Oh my god, your friend is out of control.
Innocent bystander #2: Dude, your friends is attacking ads- you need to rescue her!
This is when I did something utterly cowardly and lame. After two and a half hours of this getting progressively more annoying, I could not take it anymore, and fled the scene of the crime. Maisnon assisted with my departure significantly, especially when she gave KL her patented oh no you di'nt look when KL attempted to drag me back into the bar for a drunken conversation about her feelings. I might have feebly said a quick goodbye to everyone, at best.
This was particularly wimpy of me because I was the one that suggested everyone meet up. I was the one that invited the possibly drugged out KL. Not only did I fail at preventing KL from molesting ads, but I also had a little meltdown of my own and left everyone else to clean up my mess.
And I assume more of a mess followed, because Crack is Wack, y'all. And also, my friend PG text-messaged me three times on Saturday asking for KL's number. So clearly, some more freaky-deaky happenings occurred after I left.
Tuesday, October 17, 2006
It rained, and then it rained some more. It rained the entire three-hour drive home. It's still raining. The good part about the rain, though, is that the hours preceding it were slightly warmer than normal, which made braving a Vermont morning in a suit a bit less daunting.
The thing is, my parents and I have this strange relationship, which has a very distinct shelf-life. It is approximately 24-48 hours. After that, they lose interest in what is going on with me (and I've been stuffed with food as if I was a refugee), and my mom goes on her kick about informing me of the big three: marriages, deaths, and births. Since they are always pertaining to people I have met less than three times in my life, that gets old very quickly. In the next stage, the phase where my parents start chatting with each other about me, while I sit nearby. Now, we're in the final stage, where my parents hover nearby, not really doing or saying anything, just simply occupying space nearby, as if this somehow brings us closer.
So, yeah, we're a little dysfunctional.
But tomorrow, oh tomorrow, damn the rain and the rush-hour traffic. Tomorrow, I am flying home. This weekend, I stay in the city, the whole weekend. This suddenly feels special to me. What's even more special is this- next week, I do not have to travel anywhere either. I will be spending most of that week cleaning and decompressing, and figuring out my next game plan, how to rebuild it- better and stronger.
Off-topic, I've never taken a drive in New England when the radio station has neglected to play the following two songs: Sister Christian by Night Ranger and Over the Hills and Far Away by Led Zeppelin. It's nice to see some things remain constant after all these years.
Monday, October 16, 2006
Still, today's drive to Vermont was a nice trip down memory lane. Peak foliage season has passed, so some of the trees, the birches especially, seemed to shiver, embarassed at the leaves they had recently shed. Still, the panoramic spans of hills and mountains, the tiny farm houses a mere speck against the pastures, all of it was a reminder of something I thought had ceased to exist. Then I got to town, and it was a reminder of everything I knew would continue in EBF- amongst these people, I would always feel apart, alone.
Growing up in EBF, I always knew this, innately. No one was particularly mean today; only a few were particularly malicious when I was younger. It is a reaction to an unknown quantity. When I was younger, I was acutely aware that my actions were shaping people's feelings towards an entire population. That is probably why I was overly polite when I was young, why I took everything so seriously. But it's funny that, even after all of these years, put me into a Norman Rockwell downtown and I revert to the same habits- more judicious driving, the extra smile, the self-censorship.
The most absurd part of all these wasted efforts is this: in the end, what this gets you is not acceptance, but invisibility. If you are meek and affable and polite, you simply blend into the background. In some ways, I guess that is what I was going for. In other ways, it has a strange effect of making me wonder if I am really here, if I really do exist.
Anyway, I have also been thinking, and I think it's time that I need to get back to basics, guess I'll start it up again. Dudes, I have to tell you that it has been a rough couple of months. I have lost some friends, and have had some general instability and awkwardness among people I was previously close to. Some of it is natural and unavoidable. But I have figured out some things, as a result of all of this upheaval.
First, this space needs to change a little. I've always boasted about the way this blog is not for you, but even as a personal venting space, I think it's unnecessary for me to rant and rave the way I have for the past several months. Even though I was vomiting all over my co-worker's Organizational Development-speak about finger-pointing (i.e. the whole "when you point at someone, three fingers are pointing back at you" zen speech), it is true that I need to turn inward again. When I do that, I can start determining what about myself I want to change and how I can go about doing it. I have always wanted to be someone who doesn't get lazy, who doesn't give up and shrug off my shortcomings with the excuse of what I am is what I am. So, the blog needs to get a little kinder and gentler, and it needs to get its brain back. The latter requirement could take a while, judging from my current mental state, though.
Second, I have been watching my parents the past few days and I am reminded of something I want again. I had it for a while, I dispensed with it when I moved to San Francisco, and now I want it again. My parents have this bizarre social life that I can't compete with- they're far more popular and socially active than I could ever be. But what I absolutely adore about being at home is that there is a constant stream of visitors to our house. Yesterday, one masi visited at 11:30 a.m., dressed in a frighteningly bright orange salwar (for Halloween, she explained). My parents and I went for a brief walk around the neighborhood afterwards. When we got back, my other masi and masa showed up and spent the next few hours chatting with us. My parents and I then went out for dinner. When we got back, my mom's cousin, B masi, arrived with her husband. Here, I must veer off course to note that my masi's husband, J masa may well be insane. My father served him a Michelob Lite, and J masa sent it back, sticking out his tongue in displeasure. Then he yelled at my father for fixing B masi a G&T, complaining "you favor her over me." Then he offered to take me out for a margarita upon my return to EBF tomorrow. So. Anyway, they left at 10 p.m. After that, we got a phone call from another friend of the family. He & his wife showed up at 10:45, and stayed until midnight.
Now, I'm not saying I want a cavalcade of visitors every weekend, especially on Sundays, the day I usually want the most solitude. But I do like the notion of people feeling comfortable stopping by my place at any old time; I like the idea of people having no occasion to visit, but visiting anyway. And even though I know my time in San Francisco is limited, I have not given up on making my little crack shack just such a place. To achieve this task though, I need to do three things at the very least:
- Clean the forsaken crack shack and keep it tidy enough that surprise visitors could pop in at any time.
- Keep my cell phone nearby and actually pick up my cell phone when people call (maisnon is somewhere yelling "um, thank you!" right now in response to this, I suspect).
- Start inviting people over for random things, like brunches. I used to do this some time back, but The Goal kept me from having the ability to continue.
I am not sorry about losing the friends I have lost. And I am not really regretful that I have not done any of these things sooner. I have had to make sacrifices in the name of what I have really wanted. But I want to appreciate the time I have left in San Francisco, and I want to appreciate the people I have met in San Francisco for the time I have left in the city. Okay, this is starting to sound like a eugoogaly, but I think you get my drift.
In other news, I still have not figured out where I am telling everyone to meet for my birthday. I am angling for a low key evening, as long as the flow of Grey Goose is not constrained.
p.s. My dad told me his favorite show is Dr. Phil. I think we are going to have a battle royale about this when I return home tomorrow since I made my patented channeling my teenage years look of utter disgust when he revealed this to me.
Thursday, October 12, 2006
Here is another secret about me. I have held it against friends that, since moving to San Francisco, my birthdays have been blah at best. At first, I thought it was just that I was getting older, and so, naturally, the hoopla was supposed to subside. However, it was never about the hoopla. That is not what I had enjoyed in past birthdays.
But, as one of the annoying facilitators at work said earlier this week, when you point at someone else, three fingers are pointing back at you. Yeah, I don't get it either. Still, this year I am taking matters into my own hands. I am planning out my own birthday celebration, and, while that may strike some of you as pathetic, it is exactly as I want it to be. Of course, since I am darting across the country again starting tomorrow morning, it is likely I will not actually send out an invitation to my birthday until everyone has already made other plans. But this way, I only have myself to blame for that.
Why bring all of this up? Because today is a different kind of birthday. This is the day we put an end to the sophomore slump up in here, because this blog has survived for two years. That is quite something, considering I seem to cycle through some crisis of conscience every so often questioning whether I ought to be polluting the internets with all my little words. There are still days when I wonder why I started blogging, why I enjoy blogging, and why I continue blogging.
I can tell you this much. As much as I ramble, rant, and rave about the need to write, the need being personal and inward, as much as I try to remain self-contained, I doubt that I would have kept at this were it not for those of you who have left comments, dropped emails, connected with me in person. Sometimes, even your silence has had an impact, makes me reconsider my otherwise irrational fury. And often, just knowing that you have read something I have written has kept me honest, kept me to my word. Or shamed me, forced me to face up to wrongdoing.
Some people make their list of resolutions at New Year's. Some people make them in September, a habit from their school years that they cannot break. I have always made them around the time of my birthday. October is always an introspectful, but hopeful time for me. Very soon, I'll be making promises I know I'll never keep. But some, a select few, I will make good on, thanks to you and thanks to me.
Wednesday, October 11, 2006
Still, some of the corporate absurdity is too good not to point out. For example, each morning at the retreat, we would arrive to ridiculous music blasting on the loudspeakers. Unfortunately, the playlist appeared to only contain a handful of songs, and so we had to listen to them over and over again. Of course, there had to be a theme involved. I'll let you guess the idea from a few of the songs that were part of the nauseating loop:
- Stand by Me by Ben E. King (I pointed out that this song gave me nightmarish memories of junior high school dances, but no one seemed to relate- is this only an EBF thing?).
- We'll Be Together by Sting (thanks for ruining a perfectly acceptable song).
- We Go Together from the Grease soundtrack. Seriously.
I know- you are feeling a little ill just reading the list. Now picture listening to it every few hours.
Because I cannot resist being a wisea$$ at such events, I came up with some alternate suggestions that went over less than swimmingly:
- Don't Stand So Close to Me by The Police
- Get Off of My Cloud by The Rolling Stones
- We're Not Gonna Take It by Twisted Sister
Well, I thought they were funny. Besides, I didn't suggest the one song I really would have had blasting if I had my druthers: Take this Job and Shove It by Johnny Paycheck.
Tuesday, October 10, 2006
I am weary and worn down, and when I am weary and worn down, I just want to be alone. But that is the thing. I do not really want to be alone. There is a very specific type of person I want to be around right now.
And it is not necessarily my closest friend. Right now, if W lived in this country, I would still stay miles away. And it is not some ex-boyfriend from a tortured relationship. Q would drive me to drink (more than I already do) at this point. It is not a big loan from the girl zone, either.
I know it sounds like I am a small child kicking and screaming, throwing a tantrum without a point. In your head right now, you're preparing to tell me, "Use your grown-up words." Articulation, always a problem for me. But, in this case, it's something, someone very specific I am thinking of.
And because I can't put my finger on it, I describe through a process of elimination. Not a witty person- I am too tired for a quick wit, for tireless teasing. It usually makes me laugh, but right now, it feels hurtful. Not a bubbly person- medicated people scare me, because it seems inevitable that they'll come off the high, and I will have to be there to clean up the crash. Not a cynical person- I am plenty pessimistic without an assist from anyone else.
No one like me. No one exactly opposite to me. I think I might know what I am craving right now, but it sounds thoroughly hypocritical to admit it. And, strangely, I associate it wholly with the east coast. It's so strange to me that San Francisco, a place I adore so completely, where I feel so at home, nonetheless seems to be lacking in one important aspect. Reliable, solid people seem nowhere to be found.
It's probably as much my fault as it is any San Franciscans. It is likely not fair for me to indict an entire city, when I have not made the necessary effort. Half of having reliable, solid friends is being a reliable, solid friend yourself, and investing the time to make that happen. But the other half is the part I can't get out of my head.
You see, I always had one foot out the door in New Jersey. Most people who knew me there were aware that I was restless, a molecule in some uncomfortable, unstable, excited state. In other words- not that unlike who I am today. Yet, I had a ride to the airport. I had a friend who would change a flat tire in a middle of a hurricane. There were people who took me in and fed me. Yes, people were living perhaps a conventional life, walking a well-trod path. But they had their feet on the ground. Drama was a fairly foreign concept.
My friend JS, just such a solid person, was someone I only spent time with at work. But he was probably the most good-hearted, the most real person I have ever met in my life. I am known as someone who begs off compliments- it is actually not a hallmark of modesty, but rather skepticism. But when JS would say something nice to me, well, I still get the warm fuzzies thinking about that, because he is sincere, he has absolutely no agenda, and he expects nothing in return. When he said something comforting to me, I could feel how rarely good he was.
So I know it sounds ridiculous, it sounds cheesy, and it certainly would get me kicked out of my hipster, jaded neighborhood. But all I really want right now is to be around a good person. Go ahead and throw your tomatoes. You needn't worry, because here's the rub: I do not deserve that which I demand.
Friday, October 06, 2006
That is something I have learned, though. I am a fairly simple-minded person, and as such, if you give me a decent chaser, I can handle even some of the most distasteful shots (in the case of the horrendous Jagermeister, I don't even need a chaser, just an unhealthy amount of jeering beforehand and cheering after the face). I always like to state the obvious, but it really is true that a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down.
Anyway, masking the nasty with the pleasant is what probably caught my attention in a research highlight covered in Nature's latest issue. You see, there are things about myself that I know are fairly vile. And, most of the time, I do my best to shield my friends from that ugly underbelly. In some ways, it is unfortunate, because maybe no one really knows me as a result. But on the other hand, they are not subjected to some of the inner rage and irrational ramblings that fuel my mind at such times. You know, I am just trying to be polite.
For example, when I was in graduate school, I had a particularly miserable project. Since I was one of the last ones to land in an untenured professor's lab, I was really scraping the barrel in terms of projects. Not to mention, I had no real sense for what I had gotten myself into until it was too late. The very first step of the synthesis I was working on involved formation of an isonitrile. There are two things to note about this:
- Isonitriles are some of the nastiest smelling compounds ever to be made in this world.
- Because this was the first step in my synthesis, I had to make large quantities of isonitriles.
The particular isonitrile I was working on was volatile, which basically means it evaporates into the air to assault everyone's sense of smell all the more rapidly than your average putrid isonitrile. When I set about making the material, it was an absurd production. Every week, after our lab meeting, everyone would leave for the night, and I would stay behind. I did all of my work in a glovebox, which always made me feel like I was doing some sort of really precarious research that could end with me getting exposed to some sort of substance that transformed me into a superhero.
Alas, if the research did end that way, then my superpower was repulsion. Even with the glovebox keeping all the chemicals contained and unexposed to the atmosphere, just the split second of contamination that occurred when I transferred materials from the glovebox to a sealed flask was enough to let loose an odor so insufferable that anyone who had not heeded my previous warnings scattered out of the lab like cockroaches when the light has been turned on.
Being an organic chemist means swagger and bravado, so you have to hitch up your pants and shrug off the smells that come with the work. I tried to put on an indifferent air, tried to focus on the fact that this was the first step on a fascinating journey. But really, the journey wasn't all that fascinating to me, it turned out. And the smell of that g*d-forsaken isonitrile did not seem worth the reward of getting to the next step.
Of course, some other cowboy chemist persevered where I never could. Subir Gorai no doubt spent an unfortunate amount of his graduate years synthesizing isonitriles, and then manipulating them, to see if there was a way to mask the odor. The result is a practically important discovery. The idea is actually simple. Anyone who took basic organic chemistry lab might have thought of it, if they had connected the dots. In most organic chemistry labs, at some point, you synthesize an ester. It is easy, because it is usually a 1 or 2 step reaction, and is a rapid reaction. And it is a good place to learn lab techniques, because inevitably, you separate the ester from its starting material by distilling off the ester. Of course, if you have done this in real life, you know that this usually means that, in the process of distilling your ester, the entire chemistry department smells like some variation of bananas, mint, or cinnamon, depending on what ester your professor has you synthesize. This reminds that a few times when I was a teaching assistant, I really wanted to hurt the organic chemistry professors; they let the students decide which esters they wanted to make, and let me tell you, an amalgam of banana, mint, and cinnamon oil wafting through corridors is way too much for the nose to take.
Anyway, Gorai's work relies on the relatively pleasant aroma of the ester acting as a neutralizer of sorts. By tacking on an ester to the molecule, isonitriles can be formed without clearing the lab with their terrorizing smell. Then, once they have been transformed to the more stable, less putrid next step in your synthesis, you can get rid of the ester. So basically, the ester is your chaser, for the horrible shot of isonitrile.
This idea is the same as the idea of a protecting group. You can silence an unruly part of your molecule, freeing it later, when it's more convenient for you. Thinking this over this afternoon, I really question why I ever quit chemistry. It's certainly more interesting than the conversations that occupied my afternoon, which involved:
- dispensing stock options to people
- explaining something about budgets which I don't even fully understand myself
- talking three people out of having utter meltdowns about mostly political bullsh*t at work
I miss the days when some dude in a white coat sidled up next to me in lab and started scribbling excitedly on my hood with a Sharpie. There are no mad scientists around this joint. Except perhaps for me. Maybe I will find one while searching for my next Grey Goose and Tonic tonight. But I doubt it.
Thursday, October 05, 2006
- why a major airline can only offer me a flight to Chicago from San Francisco that stops in, wait for it- Houston.
- why a coworker cancelled a meeting, citing her busy schedule, and then proceeded to call and talk to me for the thirty minutes when we were supposed to have met.
- why I have gotten myself into situations where I am keeping all kinds of secrets from all kinds of people, some of which are as stupid as keeping a blog and being in town on my birthday.
Another beautiful example of my stupidity came through in my chat with SJM. He put his motorcycle up for sale, and got a lot of offers. This, of course, caused him to second guess putting the bike up on the auction block. He called it indecisive. I called it human nature. Joni Mitchell never lies, yo. It seems like it's unavoidable to start taking what is good for granted.
And then I realized, afterwards, that the whole chat was ridiculously meta. Here I am, telling SJM this, but it's nearly redundant. You see, SJM has been in my fair city for about a year now. But The Goal was in full effect the whole time he was here, and I was basically on a missing persons list. Now, just as I am finally getting a chance to come up for air, he is heading back to his preferred town. And I keep b*tching about it.
And if you want to know whether it's valid to regret not spending more time with SJM, consider this. I keep ragging him out about leaving so soon, and being out of town while all of his departure celebrations are taking place. And not once, in all of this self-absorbed jacka$$-ery has SJM snapped, "B*tch, please, you hardly ever were around to hang with while I was here. Now, all of a sudden, I'm leaving, and you're complaining?" Not once. That is a good-hearted fellow.
Wednesday, October 04, 2006
But, as Stephen Colbert would say, J.J. Abrams, you're on notice. It is true that I have been traveling a lot, and there are other scheduling commitments I have had that have forced me out of any kind of regular viewing of television shows. But it must also be said that I have been rather unenthused by the offerings. Entourage seemed to end before it even began, so fleeting was its season this summer. Project Runway's third season has been, as Michael Kors himself might say, underwhelming. There have been such a deluge of new shows this fall that I cannot even pick them apart. Are The Nine and Six Degrees the same show, or are they companion shows? Oh wait, that's right, I don't care.
And J.J, it must be said that, after last season, I am begrudgingly dragging myself to watch the third season of Lost. That is, if I can remember to tape it every week, because I actually cannot watch the show in real time due to my schedule. I am watching it because:
- You have added Rodrigo Santoro to the cast. And Rodrigo Santoro is a worthy runner-up in the Gael Garcia Bernal Championship Cup of Eye Candy.
- Even though he's nowhere in the previews, there is still the promise that you may allow Naveen Andrews to act the pants off of everyone else on set. And even if he needs to wash his hair, he is a good actor.
- That St. Valentine's Day massacre episode last season gave me hope that something interesting may continue to happen on this show. Plus, that means there is the possibility that you may kill off the Hobbit at some point.
Still, you are on notice, and here is why. Last night, after getting barraged by advertisements about the show all of last week, and reading two unusually gushing reviews from normally ruthless critics, I watched Friday Night Lights. There are so many reasons I should not like this show:
- Thanks to the NBC executive monkeys and all the critics, this show was so overhyped that it should not have been able to meet expectations.
- It is a retread of a movie, that was adapted from a book.
- It is a show with the word Friday in the title that is shown on a Tuesday.
- I never had the slightest inclination to watch the movie.
- There are lots and lots of teenagers on the show. And not the angsty My So-Called Life variety of teenagers. Popular teenagers- cheerleaders and football players. I did not grow up in a football town, and the football players at my high school were just plain annoying.
- After the first fifteen minutes of the show, you know exactly how the pilot episode is going to unfold.
- There is a whole lot of praying, which I usually avoid on television.
But I mean to tell you, I absolutely, unabashedly adore this show. And that's why you are on notice, J.J- if more shows like this start cropping up, you with your incoherent plot twists and character assassinations are in big, big trouble. Here are the reasons I fell for Friday Night Lights:
- This should be more of a disclaimer, but it is true that I will watch most anything with Kyle Chandler in it. I used to watch that ridiculous show where he got the news a day early and had to spend all of his time rescuing kitties out of burning buildings or whatever. I even watched Grey's Anatomy just to see him explode. And yes, I confess that I watched 20 minutes of Kong because I spotted him in it for a moment. But even setting all of that aside, he is a great, unusual choice for playing a head coach.
- It's shot beautifully. Peter Berg, who used to make my eyes roll every time he appeared on a television screen, really knows how to shoot scenes. Even if this show had a crappy premise, plot, and dialogue, it would still manage to hold your attention because of the way it's filmed.
- Even though there are a lot of teenagers, there is no hint of that WB soap opera tone.
- Even though you can guess exactly what is going to happen in the pilot episode, when it happens, it still makes you inhale sharply. There is such great build up and tension that you can't help getting invested. Every scene, every conversation adds another heap of pressure on the coach and the team so effectively that you can really empathize when the inevitable occurs.
- They even managed to get to me with their praying.
Of course, with my luck, the show will probably get cancelled. I really wonder if I should be celebrating so openly about this show- there is nothing about it that I should like. It's not usually the sort of show I sit down to watch. It's even, dare I say it, wholesome entertainment. Maybe this is just a sign that I am getting old.
Or maybe I just haven't seen Sawyer with his shirt off for a while.
Anyway- you should clearly take all of this with a grain of salt, because no one should trust a person who is gleeful at being characterized as follows:
I mean, it's true, though: I do love the smell of napalm in the morning.
Tuesday, October 03, 2006
If you do not believe me, delve a little deeper into the story of today's winners of the Nobel Prize in Physics. Mather and Smoot did not win the prize by unearthing that low-levels of background radiation could lend credence to the Big Bang theory. In fact, a Nobel was awarded in 1978 to other scientists for that. Today's winners were recognized for building COBE, which further quantifies and analyzes that background radiation.
To your average physics-impaired moron (i.e. me), there is still so much to admire about this. First, it is a beautiful example of how we build, we refine, we inch closer to the truth with each successive generation. We climb onto the shoulders of those who came before us to reach for the stars.
Second, more abstract, is the echo. The idea that reverberations of the Big Bang are still clattering about the universe is mystifying. All that background noise we take for granted could all be hints, all be the dying gasps of our initial births. It makes me think of living up to expectations, something I typically rail against. I like to think that I need answer to no one, that I need live up to no one's expectations. But then there are the people that came before me, my grandfather, and even so many before that. So many people easily mistaken for static. I need to pay more attention to silence.